Rodgers and Hammerstein’s undeniable classic of a score, Paul Kerryson’s outgoing musical production as Artistic Director, a shining light of the British musical theatre taking on an iconic leading role – the ingredients are certainly there for something magical to appear this Christmas in Leicester. But to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t help but feel just a little disappointed by this version of The Sound of Music, whilst recognising that it is perhaps a choice in terms of failsafe festive programming.
Kerryson has been responsible for some brilliant reimaginings of West End stalwarts – most recently Chicago and Hairspray – but it is immediately apparent here that this is going to be as traditional as they come, even old-fashioned in its insistent reliance on flying cloths in Al Parkinson’s pastel-hued design. They undoubtedly have a spatial grandeur (the stained-glass reflections in the abbey in particular) but they also sap the pace of the production terribly as they’re wangled into place time and time again.
There are elements that do compensate for this though. Drew McOnie’s choreography offers rays of bright Alpine sunshine, the routine for ‘Sixteen Going On Seventeen’ is an especial delight and one ends up longing for more of it. And Laura Pitt-Pulford continues her rise to Dame-in-waiting with a breathlessly endearing portrayal of Maria, such wholesome earnestness has rarely felt so convincing as her captivating voice beguiles every member of the Von Trapp family from Gretl to Georg.
The kids sound great, led by Emma Harrold’s passionate Liesl; the nuns sound great, headed by Lucy Schaufer’s glorious Mother Abbess; the band sound great, directed by Ben Atkinson (and nice to see them all get to take a bow at the end). But a spark of something is missing and for me, it lay with Michael French as the Captain. To be fair, he had much to live up to as Michael Xavier absolutely nailed it at the Open Air Theatre last year but even so, he did nothing to move me.
He wasn’t helped by some appalling costumes – takis’ work here is fine on everyone else but the Captain’s jackets were a monstrosity, not at all fitted and really detracting from a character who is meant to be so fastidious. And though vocally more than competent, he missed the emotion I needed – finally joining in with his children ought to be one of the most beautiful moments of the show but it is just tossed away here. Oh Captain my Captain, where have you gone?
In and of itself, this isn’t a bad production of The Sound of Music, not at all. It is just the pesky thing of expectations getting in the way – I’d anticipated Kerryson doing something different and with the memories of last year’s exemplary production in Regent’s Park still in mind, a version as safe as this was never going to hit the mark for me. But as old-fashioned as satsumas, chocolate coins and sugar mice in your stocking, it certainly has its place.